March 17, 2021

Mookie Betts: Everyone Deserves To Be Paid What They're Worth

GQ has published a long feature on Mookie Betts, written by Sam Schube, in which Betts talks, among other things, about leaving the Red Sox:

Early on Betts determined that he would turn down whatever contract extension he was offered in order to make it to free agency, where he'd be able to earn something closer to his true market value. He just as soon would have re-signed in Boston, he says—but only if they made the right offer.

Just like learning to lay off outer-half curveballs, turning down big dollars took practice. "The very first contract extension I ever saw was super hard to turn down," he says. "It was like $90 million or something. They slid over the sheet of paper, and I saw the number, and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh.' I had never seen that before, so that was hard to turn down. But once you can figure out how to say no, then it becomes easy as anything. Saying no the first time is the hardest thing."

It got easier—but also stranger. He couldn't wrap his head around asking for anything less than what he knew he deserved. "I don't care if you're working at Waffle House or for the Red Sox or for the Dodgers," he says. "You should just get paid what you're worth." Ultimately the Red Sox decided they'd rather trade Betts than lose him to free agency, shipping him to Los Angeles. . . .

Betts thought he'd be with the Sox for life, and says he loved his time there—he and Bri had begun looking at new houses before the trade. But he isn't sentimental about the bonds between player and team. The Red Sox "didn't owe me anything; I didn't owe them anything. The city didn't owe me anything; I didn't owe the city anything. We did what we were supposed to do. And at that point," he says, "it's a business." The Sox couldn't—or just wouldn't—pay him what he knew he was worth. So he wound up with a team that could.

* * *

It would be incorrect to describe Betts's interest in, or talent for, bowling as a mere hobby. He competes in celebrity tournaments . . . and the odd Professional Bowlers Association event when his schedule allows. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman remembers calling the superstar after the trade to welcome him to the team. "I'm really sorry," Betts answered, "but I'm in the middle of a bowling tournament. Can I call you back?" . . .

[F]or the past few winters Mookie Betts has entered a run of local bowling tournaments in Texas, where a bunch of pro bowlers tune up ahead of their season. This year Betts's three-man traveling party divided his nine balls among their checked bags and carry-ons and flew to Dallas. He hit a few tournaments there, and then the group rented a minivan to drive to Houston for a few more. The competition was serious, but these were not glamorous tournaments: Betts spent much of his holiday under harsh fluorescent lighting, stationed between the pizza counter and the arcade. This just happened to be where the action was. . . . The $365 million man took home some cash—$300, he thinks—at one tournament. With sincerity, he calls it the best few hundred dollars he ever made. . . . "It's hard as hell to cash in a tournament like that. With professionals. I was proud of myself, for sure."

I don't care if you're working at Waffle House
or for the Red Sox or for the Dodgers.
You should just get paid what you're worth.

Craig Calcaterra, Cup of Coffee, March 17, 2021:

[T]his is a concept every single Red Sox executive, Red Sox fan, and person covering the Red Sox in the media would readily apply to themselves . . . But when it comes to an athlete, it's suddenly far more complex than that! Suddenly the athlete owes it to a bunch of people to unilaterally hobble their negotiating power and to take less than they're worth lest they be cast as ungrateful or unwilling to stick around.

It's an idiotic notion carried over from a time when teams restricted player movement almost completely, which was itself carried over from a time when workers had no rights whatsoever, which was carried over from a couple centuries of thinking that a great many workers aren't workers at all but property. I'll never understand why we're supposed to accept that state of affairs in the 21st century. And I never will, in fact, accept it.

In related news:

The minimum wage in the United States in 2009 was $7.25 an hour. 

The minimum wage in the United States in 2021 is $7.25 an hour.

Those 12 years is the longest period in US history that the minimum wage has remained stagnant. 

A few years ago, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that the lowest-paid workers in the US have lost about $3,000 a year since 2009, when the always-rising cost of living is taken into account. A person working a full-time job at minimum wage now earns $15,080 – before taxes. With the higher cost of living, a $7.25 an hour wage in 2021 is equivalent of being paid $5.81 an hour in 2009.

There in nowhere in the United States in 2021 where a minimum wage full-time worker can afford to rent an average two-bedroom apartment. Even if the minimum wage was suddenly raised to $15 an hour, there would be only four states in which a full-time worker could afford an average two-bedroom apartment (Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Arkansas).


betterthanthealternative said...

What a horrible phrase: "paid what a person is worth."

allan said...

I hear you. Obviously, it's not meant to be taken literally: "your life is worth $10 an hour". I cannot think of an alternative at the moment. I suppose "you should be paid what you deserve" is better, but I also hear that as the job being tied to the person's performance of it and some people are absolutely shitty at the jobs they have and would deserve very little for how they do it.

Everyone should be paid a wage that allows them to live a comfortable and dignified life. Adequate, well-maintained housing should be a human right (with free access to clean water and electricity). Those things (and others, too) should not subject to the whims and greed of the marketplace. There should not be even one homeless person in the entire country. That, to me, seems as basic as it gets.

How can a country make any claim towards greatness if it tells its citizens: "We allow your boss to pay you pennies, making it impossible for you to afford a place to live so you have to sleep outdoors in the rain and snow while we spend $106,000,000 every single hour of every single day on our military"?

(2021 military budget: $934 billion)

laura k said...

Thank you, Mookie! Thanks, Allan.